Lawyers on behalf of a 10-year-old special needs child sexually assaulted on a school bus by her driver reached a record $4.75 million settlement Tuesday with Lodi Unified School District.
The 2010 assault was captured by video camera on the school bus. The girl, 8 at the time of the assault, had the mental capacity of a 5-year-old. She was alone on the bus with driver Richard Evans, now 61, in 2010 while on her way to elementary school.
Evans was convicted and sentenced to 25 years in prison. Before his hire, Evans had been convicted of having sex with a prostitute while driving a potato chip delivery truck.
The child's attorney hopes the settlement will force school districts to better check bus drivers' backgrounds, and that it will prompt a state investigation.
"This settlement provides some small measure of justice for a little girl who suffered horrible abuse at the hand of a school bus driver who should never have been hired," said John Manly, the victim's attorney. "It also sends a clear message to every school district in California -- protect our children from dangerous predators or suffer the consequences."
The Lodi school district released a statement Tuesday on behalf of Superintendent Cathy Washer: "Lodi Unified School District is pleased that Nor Cal Relief and the plaintiffs in this case have reached a settlement that will provide resources for the family of the student that was harmed.... The district
Nor Cal Relief is an insurance pool funded by 330 member public school districts, she explained.
On Feb. 27, a San Joaquin County Superior Court jury found Lodi Unified negligent in hiring Evans and 90 percent liable. The case was nearing the second phase of awarding damages when the district decided to settle for $4.75 million, the largest pre-verdict settlement against a California school district in history, Manly said. Last month, the Lodi school board turned down a settlement for $500,000 less, Manly added.
"Her life is destroyed, she never will be OK and that's why the number is so high," Manly said. "The jury was also able to see and hear the horror the victim went through on the video."
During trial, Manly said that had the district checked Evans' references, former co-workers would have said on-duty sexual activity was a common occurrence for him.
The girls' attorneys are calling for a state investigation into the hiring standards of nonclassified school employees, particularly bus drivers who need to be approved by the DMV and CHP.
"Despite his criminal conviction for lewd conduct while on the job as a professional driver he was eligible to drive a school bus," Manly said.
Contact Matthias Gafni at 925-952-5026. Follow him at Twitter.com/mgafni.